MSPs told assisted suicide plans ‘threaten palliative care’

Legalising assisted suicide would damage palliative care and reduce motivation to find cures for debilitating diseases, MSPs have been told.

Medical and legal professionals were giving evidence to Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee on a Bill to allow patients as young as 16 to end their lives, even if they are not terminally ill.

Dr Francis Dunn, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, said that taking part in a process which “directly led to the patient’s death” is something “alien” to doctors’ careers and development.

Reduce incentive

And he raised concerns that if the Bill became law, this might “reduce the incentive to find better cures and better palliative care treatments”.

“I feel that if this had come in, say, 20 years ago, it would have diminished the impetus on the palliative care movement”, he added.

Dr Dunn referred to conditions which 70 years ago were seen as incurable, but because assisted suicide was not an option, treatments were found.

Significant difficulty

Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson, a former GP and founding member of a hospice, criticised the scope of the Bill which allows assisted suicide for “life-shortening conditions”.

“There are those with learning disability – not severe learning disability – or epilepsy. All these people at the moment tend to have a much shorter life expectancy.”

“I have significant difficulty in what constitutes a life-shortening condition”, he explained.

Conscience clause

Aileen Bryson, head of practice and policy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland, explained that should assisted suicide ever be legalised, a conscience clause is an “absolute must” for the pharmacists she represents.

The Health and Sport Committee is set to hear evidence from ethicists, palliative care specialists and faith groups in the coming weeks.

The Scottish Parliament has previously rejected introducing assisted suicide – in 2010 it voted down Margo MacDonald’s Bill by 85 votes to 16.

The new Bill is being led by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, following the death of Margo MacDonald last year.

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